Sidewalk Flowers

illus. by Sydney Smith. 32p. House of Anansi/Groundwood. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781554984312.
RedReviewStarK-Gr 3—An emotionally moving, visually delightful ode to the simple powers of observation and empathy. A young girl and her father walk home from the grocery store through busy city streets in this wordless picture book. Along the way, Dad is preoccupied—talking on his cell phone, moving with purpose, eyes forward—while his daughter, a bright spot of red in a mostly black-and-white world, gazes with curiosity at the sights around her. In graphic novel-style panels, readers see what she sees: colorful weeds and wildflowers springing up from cracks in the pavement. She begins to collect these "sidewalk flowers" as they make their way past shops, across bustling avenues, and through a city park. Halfway through their journey, the little girl surreptitiously begins giving pieces of her bouquet away: a dandelion and some daffodils to a dead bird on a pathway; a sprig of lilac to an older man sleeping on a bench; daisies in the hair of her mother and siblings. With each not-so-random act of kindness, the scenes fill with more and more color, until the pen-and-ink drawings are awash in watercolor, her world now fully alive and vibrant. With pitch-perfect visual pacing, the narrative unfolds slowly, matched by the protagonist's own leisurely appreciation of her environment. Smith expertly varies perspective, switching from bird's-eye view to tightly focused close-ups. The panel format is used exquisitely; the individual choices are purposeful, and the spaces between panels effectively move the story.
VERDICT This is a book to savor slowly and then revisit again and again.

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